Rebuttal to Oyster Herpes Op-Ed

Jul 18, 2019

Here’s a rebuttal on the European-oyster-import situation, from the directors of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

European Oysters Safe to Eat

We are writing to correct some of the information offered in the May 22 opinion piece by Mr. & Mrs. Osinski titled: Keep Europe’s Sick Shellfish Out of America.

Mr. Osinski seeks to block a seven-year effort to re-open trade in bivalve shellfish between the U.S. and the EU. He points to the fact that populations of the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, have been decimated by a strain of herpes virus known as OsHV-1. This virus doesn’t impact humans, but we know it causes mass mortalities in young Pacific oysters. The virus has devastated oyster production in France, Australia and New Zealand and has spread through much of Europe. We are unsure if it impacts the American oyster, Crassostrea virginica, but studies are underway.

It is reasonable to assume that any live shellfish coming from Europe or New Zealand carry the virus, and growers in the U.S. are understandably concerned. Our response needs to be legal, effective and guided by the best available science. The knee jerk response of banning shellfish trade with the EU fails in all three of these criteria. 

The World Organization for Animal Health maintains a list of 117 animal diseases known as the OIE list. Most countries ban trade in animals from countries known to have these infections to prevent the spread of these diseases. OsHV-1 is not on this list. If we were to ban the imports of EU oysters it could trigger retaliatory actions since we don’t have a legal justification.

Worse yet, banning EU shellfish imports would not solve the problem. OsHV-1 spread to New Zealand oysters six years ago and we import those oysters regularly. West Coast growers of Pacific Oysters believe that it is simply a matter of time before the infection reaches their shores.  What then? Do we ban West Coast oysters on the East Coast too?

International movement of exotic species and diseases has been exacerbated by international shipping for decades. Cargo ships carry vast amounts of ballast water, dumping that water when they take on cargo. Our ability to regulate this known vector for exotic species and diseases has been hampered by the desire for free trade.

We believe the best approach to mitigating the risk of OsHV-1 introduction lies in public education and labeling. It is illegal to put Pacific oysters in western Atlantic waters, but restaurants and oyster lovers need to know the risks involved. Waterfront restaurants should probably not serve exotic oysters and shell recyclers need to understand why we mandate drying shell for months before that shell can be used for reef restoration.

The knee jerk response of blocking shellfish trade with the EU will simply trigger retaliatory actions, hurting our industry while not fully eliminating the risk.

Robert Rheault, PhD.

Executive Director, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

Thomas Kehoe

Past President, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

CEO Kingsbridge Strategies

Contact information:

Robert Rheault

[email protected]

(401) 783-3360

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